I went to Great Basin National Park twice last summer, once with friends and once with my parents. It was almost back to back, but I did different activities both times so I felt like I got to see a wide range of what the park and surrounding area of Ely could offer! It’s a great little weekend trip from Salt Lake.
We stopped by the Salt Flats on our way to Nevada, which is one of the most interesting landscapes in Utah. It’s the first place I can remember ever seeing mirages for real, and while they don’t look like how they’re represented in Looney Tunes, it is pretty wild to not be able to trust your eyes.
Ely has a lot of interesting history! We took the scenic railroad, which was a fun activity and made for a good primer on the early years when the town was settled. We also went to go visit the Charcoal Ovens. They were part of the mining process, but the more fun claim to fame is that outlaws used to use the ovens to evade the police. The drive out was quite pretty as the sun set but it was slow going with the dirt roads and a herd of cows that also laid claim to them.
There are two main aspects of the park: the mountains and the caves. My friends and I did a hike in the mountains, which was a little harrowing with the snow on the trail – definitely a few slips as we made our way over, it might have been nice to have spikes or something. But the view once we got to the lake was incredible! I loved the mirrored reflection of the still-snowy mountains, and I think it would be equally nice in the later summer once the snow was more melted as well.
The cave tour was also a great activity. It had cool formations, it was fairly accessible, and the history of the discovery of the caves was well told by our guide. Definitely worth doing if you’re in the park! Overall, I would say Great Basin is a bit smaller than most of the other national parks I’m used to in the west, but I still got two great weekends out of it.